Two Cheers for Anarchism (2012) began as a large undergraduate lecture course on anarchism

Some years ago, James C. Scott taught a large undergraduate lecture course on anarchism in order to educate himself about the topic, and to figure out his own relationship to it.

Scott’s conceptualization of anarchism includes a focus on “voluntary co-operation without hierarchy” and a celebration of “the inventiveness and judgment of people who are free to exercise their creative and moral capacities” (see blurb at the end of this post). One can add that these qualities exist in society quite apart from the anarchism brand or label.

Scott’s course reminds me of Peter Burke, whose study of cultural history began when he taught a course about cultural history – or some related topic – early in his career. Maybe the course had to do with the influence of social theory on the study of history.

Launching of careers

I don’t recall precisely what I had read, probably in a preface to one of his studies, some time ago. At any rate, an early course that Peter Burke taught established the trajectory of his career.

I’m reminded of the screenwriter Pen Densham, whose career began when he dropped out of school at age 15 in Great Britain in the early 1960s, when he realized that schooling involved a process of shaping him in a way that would not be suitable for his development as an artist.

Densham now enjoys his work as a writer and teacher. His teaching focuses on what’s he’s learned about surviving and prospering in the highly competitive film industry. By competitive I mean that a graph of the industry’s rewards, as in some other arts-related fields, is shaped like a hockey stick. A small number of individuals – the vertical part of the hockey stick in the graph – tend to make it big time while others do not, as that is the nature of the business. Fortunately, good work is also available, elsewhere on the graph. Some of the great filmmakers of our time, it may be added, are film school graduates. Many avenues are available for the launch of a career in the arts.

How people get started in their careers – the start of Erving Goffman’s life work also comes to mind – is of interest.

Early childhood play-based learning experiences

Some of the most successful and productive people that I’ve met in my life, or heard about, were home schooled for significant periods of their childhood. In Finland, children don’t start school until the age of seven.

That’s among the reasons, I believe, that Finnish students do so well in international tests of student achievement. In childhood they have many opportunities for self-organized play, which is an ideal way to enhance brain development, according to extensive, methodologically sound research related to the role of early childhood education on subsequent lifetime productivity and success.

With regard to schools, Scott notes (p. 104) that “It is most curious that the United States should elect to homogenize its educational system when most of the rest of the world is headed in the opposite direction. Finland, for example, has no external tests and no ranking of students or schools, but scores exceptionally well on all international measures of achievement.”

It may be added, from what I’ve read, that Finnish teachers aren’t told how to implement their curriculum. Teachers are free to implement it in whatever way make sense for them.

A related post about Finish education is entitled:

The Finland Phenomenon (2011): DVD about Finland’s educational system

Class conflicts and marginal peoples in the hills

His experience in writing about “peasants, class conflict, resistance, development projects, and marginal peoples in the hills of Southeast Asia” (p. ix) gave rise to Scott’s arguments, formulated in Two Cheers for Anarchism (2012), about anarchism.

The copy of the text that I’ve borrowed from my local library has a binding that encourages the pages to detach themselves from the book. That said, the text is of interest, and the reader can readily keep track of the pages, by handling the book with care. The book also has a somewhat haphazard approach to proofreading (as in its spelling of Jane Jacobs in a chapter footnote) and copy editing (as in a sentence that is begun but not completed on the acknowledements page), which detracts to an extent from the cogency of its message.

The law of anarchist calisthenics

Scott adds, in the preface to his 2012 study, that: “My interest in the anarchist critique of the state was born of disillusionment and dashed hopes in revolutionary change.”

A blurb – which I’ve broken into shorter paragraphs – at the Toronto Public Library website for Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play (2012) notes:

James Scott taught us what’s wrong with seeing like a state. Now, in his most accessible and personal book to date, the acclaimed social scientist makes the case for seeing like an anarchist.

Inspired by the core anarchist faith in the possibilities of voluntary cooperation without hierarchy, Two Cheers for Anarchism is an engaging, high-spirited, and often very funny defense of an anarchist way of seeing – one that provides a unique and powerful perspective on everything from everyday social and political interactions to mass protests and revolutions.

Through a wide-ranging series of memorable anecdotes and examples, the book describes an anarchist sensibility that celebrates the local knowledge, common sense, and creativity of ordinary people.

The result is a kind of handbook on constructive anarchism that challenges us to radically reconsider the value of hierarchy in public and private life, from schools and workplaces to retirement homes and government itself.

Beginning with what Scott calls “the law of anarchist calisthenics,” an argument for law-breaking inspired by an East German pedestrian crossing, each chapter opens with a story that captures an essential anarchist truth.

In the course of telling these stories, Scott touches on a wide variety of subjects: public disorder and riots, desertion, poaching, vernacular knowledge, assembly-line production, globalization, the petty bourgeoisie, school testing, playgrounds, and the practice of historical explanation.

Far from a dogmatic manifesto, Two Cheers for Anarchism celebrates the anarchist confidence in the inventiveness and judgment of people who are free to exercise their creative and moral capacities.

[End of blurb]


2 replies
  1. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Colleen O’Marra writes;

    Rather trite account of the great systems of education overseas(Re:
    The Finns) considering most of the world-changing inventions and feats
    are very much an American success story.The planet is all too familiar
    with the genius of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs but step back and let’s
    laud Thomas Edison, Henry Ford,the Wright brothers, Charles Lindbergh
    and Dr. Jonas Salk just to name a few of the hundreds of American
    contributors to all the sciences which have changed the world. The
    Finns might have better daycare but you’d have to dig pretty deep to
    come up with world-renowned Finnish accomplishments in spite of such a
    superior school system. Oh and by the way, guess what country the
    Finns would be calling if Putin( a very comfortable anarchist)
    decides to step a little further into old Russian territory ? ( C.

  2. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    It’s a pleasure to know the views of long-time residents of Long Branch.

    I’ve enjoyed my visits to Finland in years past. I enjoy learning about the history of the Finnish community in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada.

    Among the books that I look forward to reading is Defiant Sisters: A Social History of Finnish Immigrant Women in Canada (2003).

    Also of interest: Between a Rock and a Hard Place: A Historical Geography of the Finns in the Sudbury Area (1999).


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